Bethel University launches The 25, a program seeking to empower female students by providing them with resources, experiences and connections to successful, Christ-centered women.
By Julia Van Geest
This fall marked the launch of The 25, a four-year program that aims to cultivate the empowerment of women in leadership and accepts 25 female freshmen each year who will remain at Bethel until their graduation.
“What we want to be able to do is model for young women what it looks like to be a strong leader, to follow God’s calling, to understand how you’re wired,” said Chief of Staff Jeanne Osgood, one of the initial founders of the program.
The 25 freshmen who were accepted into the program this fall moved in together during Welcome Week and have already begun getting to know one another.
“I didn’t really know anyone coming to Bethel,” 25 member and freshman missional ministries major Olivia March said. “It’s been cool to meet different women and start the year out with them . . . We’re all coming from such different places and backgrounds and totally different majors.”
Executive Director of The 25 Heather Richards has centered the program’s content around personal growth and development for the first year.
“The students are looking at who they are and how they’re wired and how they can apply that to choosing a major and a career,” Richards said.
The cohort is taking Introduction to Wellbeing together this semester, and they have based many of their weekly meetings around the course content such as Clifton Strengthsfinder and the Myers Briggs personality test. Guest speaker Heidi Zwart, one of The 25 founding members and a certified strengths coach, spoke to the students about how to analyze and utilize their strengths throughout life and a career.
They’ve also covered topics such as how to be successful in college, choosing the right field of study and societal and Christian norms for women.
“We’re getting to break down some of the Christian stereotypes for women to see that you can be a Christian and a woman and a leader and have it all if you want that,” said Richards. “We’re giving them permission to have audacious goals and to dream big about what they can do with their life.”
Although the program is just starting, freshman Katrina Olson, a biology major and member of The 25, said she has already benefited from the community and content in the program.
“I’ve struggled with self-confidence and learning how to be a leader is really important, especially in society,” Olson said. “You see a lot of male leaders and I think it’s an amazing opportunity to experience being on a journey with other women who want to be leaders and change society for the better.”
The concept of The 25 came to Jeanne Osgood in October 2017 while she was in the process of getting her MBA at Bethel. She had been working closely with the alumni office and meeting women who were interested in being more involved at Bethel.
“I wanted to bring [like-minded] thinkers together that are passionate about Bethel, high-capacity leaders and successful in their field,” Osgood said.
A core group of five Bethel alumna consisting of Osgood, Head of Financial Planning and Senior Vice President at US Bank Sarah Darr, Chief Brand Officer at Sunrise Banks Rebecca Hoeft, Founder and CEO of Media Minefield Kristi Piehl and Head of Internal Communications at Varde Partners Andrea Schilling structured the program together before expanding to a group of 25 founding members from a variety of industries. Now, there are more than 50 women involved in The 25 program in some capacity, whether it be mentoring, speaking or donating.
“They are all passionate about Bethel and passionate about the next generation of female leaders that are going to come out of Bethel,” Osgood said.
The women met as a team in October of 2020 and spent two nights in an Airbnb brainstorming possibilities for the program. With a goal of providing the women in the program with mentors and examples to help guide their futures and careers, they came up with a phrase that defines what The 25 is about: “You can’t be what you can’t see.”
“People always say you can be anything, but to actually demonstrate that for somebody and show them how to get there is a totally different thing,” Richards said.
Because of the 50 women who have offered their support to The 25 program, each of the students will have an individual mentor for the four years they are involved. This year’s cohort will begin getting to know their mentors at the end of October.
“If people hadn’t walked alongside me, I would not be the person I am today,” Osgood said. “That’s really what the founding members want, and what every woman that’s engaged in The 25 wants. They want to be able to come alongside students and say ‘My life is better because somebody did this for me, and we’re going to pay it forward.’”
The program is 100% externally funded by a strategic growth award grant from the Bethel Foundation, financial commitments from the founding 25 and other contributors and a $200 fee from each student.
The cohort will also spend time learning about finances, from personal budgets to investing and employment benefits.
“There is this stereotype of the good Christian mother and what that means and what that looks like, but you can also be the breadwinner in your family and set yourself up to be financially successful and that can be God-honoring,” Richards said. “There is nothing wrong or un-Godly about being successful and making money. You can be using that to further kingdom work.”
In addition to attending weekly meetings, The 25 students have been divided into five committees within the program. One of them, the finance committee, is dedicated to managing the cohort’s funds for things such as field trips and transportation. Another committee, marketing and public relations, is working with the Bethel marketing admissions team to promote the program internally and externally.
Although this is only the program’s inaugural year, the women who are involved already have a vision for its future.
“Every year they’re going to add 25 new freshman women, so by the time we’re seniors it will be really cool to see women that want to be leaders in the world and that love Christ,” March said. “By the time we’re seniors, we can impact those new freshmen.”
The founding members also have a “big dreams” list that captures their hopes for the program’s future.
“It is really important for us that female students come to Bethel because of The 25,” Osgood said. “That’s one of our goals–we want to be a program that they see and say ‘that’s going to be something that really impacts my life and my experience and I want to come to Bethel because I’m a part of The 25.’”